The Kremlin’s Fight Club

September 29, 2017
Transportation Minister Maksim Sokolov (L) and Vice Premier Arkady Dvorkovich (R). Photo by Russian government press service/TASS

Update: Russia’s 2018 presidential race has already unofficially begun, with a wave of provincial governor dismissals by President Vladimir Putin.

The previous issue is here.

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The Kremlin’s Fight Club

A dozen Russian governors have been removed by President Vladimir Putin in recent weeks. In an article title “Campaign Storyboard” translated by The Interpreter, Novaya Gazeta journalist Kirill Martynov, editor of the independent news site’s politics department explains what this “purge” of governors is all about.

Russians have dubbed the wave of forced resignations as “governor-fall,” using the same term they use for autumn leaves. Martynov explains that this major shuffle of officials was dictated by the Kremlin’s preparations for a post-election 2018, following the March 2018 presidential elections–The Interpreter.

The presidential campaign is being run by the rules of Fight
Club, the first rule of which, as everyone knows, is that no one should know of
its existence.

The Central Elections Commission is prepared to announce the
nomination of candidates and the start of the election campaign in December.
There is a group of “wedding generals” (dignified figures brought
out for show), who are hoping that once again they will be summoned for the
democracy holiday.

They say that although there can only be one candidate for
president, they are all prepared to carry their cross and also join the
elections, but only after “he himself” announces this — a reference
to Putin.

In the absence of new information, with good reason, both the public and
specialists are entertaining themselves with various political
campaign sensations, related not so much to the content of the campaign but
its form.

A great deal of interest was provoked, for example, by the rumor of
the possible run of socialite and fashion editor Kseniya Sobchak (daughter of
past St. Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchak who
died under suspicious circumstances in 2000

Kseniya Sobchak would thus serve to play the role model of “an
independent candidate for the liberals” — and she’s a woman, to boot.
Opposition leader Alexey Navalny berated Sobchak for not disassociating herself
from these rumors clearly. In reply, Sobchak recalled Alexey’s “great
leaderism,” and this was fodder for a week’s discussion. That’s the brightest
news in our political life.

The Kremlin, of course, has a problem: how to organize
pretty and convincing presidential elections. But as for the other sides of the
issue, there’s almost no significance as to which selection of candidates will be offered within the framework of
this campaign: in any event, it will be for decoration.
The only exception in fact is Navalny himself. But after the events of the last
six months, we can say with nearly total confidence that under no circumstances
will the authorities let him take part in the 2018 elections. (Navalny
has faced a number of criminal cases that would disqualify him from the
elections; just today he was detained on the way to making a call for yet
another protest demonstration–The Interpreter.) After Navalny’s rallies and
the aggressive alternative campaign, this would be too risky.

So if we want to understand how the real search for the
“image of the future” is going in the Kremlin, we have to look not at
the technological side of the issue, but the personnel side. For denizens of
the Kremlin, the future is a question of which people will get into
which positions. And if we arm ourselves with this lens, then we see that the real campaign
to organize the transition to Kremlin System 2018 is already going full speed ahead.

On the one hand, this is explained by a new wave of purges of
the governors corps, where the most odious figures like Samara Governor Sergei
are being removed, and “technocrats” are replacing
them who essentially differ little from their predecessors.

On the other hand the gradual replacement of key
personalities in the government and the presidential administration is of
greater significance in the “image of the future. So far, this is going
along without sensational departures, so as not to attract the attention of the
broader public, and not destroy the image of “stability”.

Thus, Oleg
Plokhoi, head of the anti-corruption department of the presidential
administration was moved to the position of first deputy justice minister. This
position had been vacant since the infamous Sergei Gerasimov, who had led the
operation to create the registry of “foreign agents” left the post.
Gerasimov thus became one of three deputies of Justice Minister Aleksandr
Konovalov who has left the ministry in recent months. Plokhoy has the
president’s personal trust, and has prospects of taking the seat of the
minister in time.

The dressing-down of transport minister Dmitry Sokolov over
the failed airline VIM-avia gained wide publicity. Putin issued a formal
reprimand for “poor performance” and proposed to Prime Minister
Dmitry Medvedev that he should think about what to do about it.

Vice Premier
Arkady Dvorkovich also came in for a scolding from Putin — he is Medvedev’s main man, and
is responsible for overseeing transportation among other areas. The president
asked whether Dvorkovich was not “too overloaded” and wasn’t it time
to do something about this?

This is where the real presidential campaign is taking place.
The Kremlin’s hyper activity now with personnel indicates that the system has
reached its latest line and needs a shuffle on the eve of the March 2018
elections, and after them. The contribution of any even somewhat visible player
will be weighed and valued within the framework of the new correlation of

(See also: Resignation of Ramazan Abdulatipov, head of
Dagestan: poet, playwright and head of one of the most volatile Russian
regions. Sum-up of his rule)

(See also: Summary of liberal reforms. Governor of Nenets
Autonomous Region who led his region out of raw materials crisis is dismissed)

See also: ‘Young Technocrat’ from Moscow selected as
governor of Novgorod Region in the ‘political heavyweight’ scenario.)

— Translated by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

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